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Roku vs. YouTube: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By Rick Munarriz – Nov 6, 2021 at 10:05AM

Key Points

  • Shares of Roku plummeted 11% in the two days following the latest earnings report.
  • Roku and Google's YouTube are in tense negotiations that could see the short-form video app removed from the Roku app marketplace for new users next month.
  • Roku denies reports that it's in negotiations with Amazon to keep Prime Video around.

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Two streaming giants are in a no-lose war. Let's break it down based on comments Roku made in Wednesday's quarterly earnings call.

Roku (ROKU 7.70%) and Alphabet's (GOOG 1.93%) (GOOGL 2.30%) YouTube aren't seeing eye-to-eye these days, and that finds both companies on a collision course next month. If the two parties don't come to terms on a new contract next month, it could be the end of YouTube and YouTube TV on the app marketplace for Roku's popular streaming platform. 

With more than 56 million active users on its rolls, Roku is the ultimate living-room tastemaker. Folks with aftermarket Roku dongles or buyers of the 38% of smart TVs shipping with Roku as the default operating system spend an average of more than three hours a day streaming content through the platform. 

The two parties have been trading barbs back and forth about the potential split in early December, and each one is laying the blame on the other. The latest update came on Wednesday afternoon when Roku reported its third-quarter results. It wasn't much of an update, but we can parse out enough comments from the transcript to piece together the good, the bad, and the ugly of the battle between Roku and Alphabet's iconic video-sharing service. 

A frustrated TV viewer channel surfs on the couch.

Image source: Getty Images.

The good

Despite what you may have read, our Amazon agreement is not up for renewal or in negotiations at this time. 

Reports in the days leading up to Roku's earnings call were saying that the streaming platform was on the verge of losing Amazon.com's (AMZN 2.78%) Prime Video and IMDb TV. There may be some truth to the reports that one or both parties aren't happy with the current arrangement, but for now losing Amazon's popular Prime Video app doesn't seem to a near-term concern. 

The bad

We don't have an update, and our goal is to land it in a way that's positive for Roku and for our customers.

The lack of an update isn't a surprise. Roku would've put out a press release if a resolution had been reached. However, Roku would've mentioned it in the earnings release or prepared remarks if it felt that contract renewal talks were progressing favorably. Waiting until an analyst brought it up during the Q&A is not very comforting.  

The ugly

One thing I will say is, as we said before, it's not about the money. It's about our ability to create the best possible experience for our customers. We're working to resolve this matter.

This is a positive comment on the surface. However, saying that it's not about the money -- if true -- means that there isn't some price point where two parties can agree to terms. It's about control, and that's where ego sinks negotiations. Both sides believe they're right, and that could prove dangerous. YouTube would love access to an audience that's streaming roughly 6 billion hours of content a month through Roku's platform. Roku's operating system would feel woefully incomplete without YouTube. 

Roku shares are down 11% over the past two trading days, and it has nothing to do with this stalemate between two huge players in the streaming services universe. Keep watching, though. Roku shares and possibly even Alphabet will move -- up or down -- depending on how this battle plays out in the coming weeks. There's plenty to win, but there's even more that both companies stand to lose. 

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Rick Munarriz owns shares of Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, and Roku. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, and Roku. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long January 2022 $1,920 calls on Amazon and short January 2022 $1,940 calls on Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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